Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – A wrongful death and product liability lawsuit that claimed faulty building materials caused the Grenfell Tower fire in London has been dismissed by a federal judge in Philadelphia. Some of these materials were made by US manufacturers.
The fire in June 2017 killed 72 people. It started in a refrigerator in fourth-floor apartment. The flames burned through a window frame into the space between the building's insulation and the rain screen.
The flames then raced up the side of the 24-story building and turned it into a ‘flaming coffin’, according to the lawsuit filed in June 2019 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The lawsuit initially sought compensatory and punitive damages from three companies. These included Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool, which produced the Hotpoint-brand refrigerator. Two Pennsylvania-based businesses were also cited: Pittsburgh’s Arconic, which produced the cladding, and Malvern-based Saint-Gobain, which produced the insulation.
However, Saint-Gobain was dropped from the lawsuit in January after the plaintiffs acknowledged that its sister company, Celotex, manufactured and supplied the insulation. It was deemed to have no agency relationship in terms of daily control with holding company Saint-Gobain.
In the latest court action, US District Judge Michael Baylson ruled it would be more efficient to try the case in the UK as officials there have investigated the deadly fire, and that is where witnesses and potential co-defendants are located.
The judge granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the U.S. lawsuit. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Robert Mongeluzzi told the Associated Press his clients are considering their options, including an appeal of the ruling.
The plaintiffs include families of 69 people who died in the fire, as well as 177 of the injured. They contend that although the deadly blaze happened in London, the decisions that led to it took place in the US.
The 220-foot-tall high-rise was clad with Reynobond panels. These are made from aluminum and have a polyethylene core, and are insulated with Celotex RS5000 PIR. Both products were pulled from the global market within two weeks of the fire.
The panels are not permitted on US residential buildings taller than 12.2 m (40 feet), and should not have been used in the UK regardless of local codes and regulations, Mongeluzzi said.
The building materials fuelled a fire that raced up 19 floors within 12 minutes of reaching the facade, the judge noted in his 101-page opinion, which points to the findings in a 787-page report of Phase 1 of the UK public inquiry. Phase 2 of this inquiry, which is focused on the decisions that led to the installation of highly combustible cladding, is under way. A criminal investigation by the Metropolitan Police also continues.
‘At its core, this case is about a London residential fire that tragically resulted in the death of 72 UK residents, and substantial injuries to hundreds more,’ the judge’s opinion stated. ‘This court has great sympathy for the victims and survivors of the fire, as well as their family and friends.
‘The Grenfell Tower fire has been, and continues to be, the subject of an extensive inquiry conducted by the UK government and may result in criminal prosecutions. Defendants Arconic and Whirlpool, which are American companies whose products allegedly contributed to the severity of the fire, are two of many potentially responsible actors. Defendants have demonstrated that they would be genuinely inconvenienced by having to defend against plaintiffs’ claims in Pennsylvania, and have shown that litigating in the UK is significantly more preferable.’